Crouched down I retrieved the binder which is beyond bursting with recipes—some clipped from newspaper, some from magazines, while others were passed on. I knew what I was looking for when I flipped the tab marked “BREADS” to the side. Her long-hand penmanship came into view — Grandma’s Sweet Rolls — involuntarily I sat on the cold tile beneath the open cabinet door, where once again both the cold from the stone and the loss, trickled through me.
The notebook paper stared back at me and before pulling it from its protective sheet cover, I brushed the plastic with the palm of my hand.
Did she sit at her dining room table and think about her mortality before she picked up the pen and hand wrote the instructions for making her scrumptious cinnamon rolls?
No, I suspect not. Guessing at her thoughts I imagine her obsession with making the lines legible, and perhaps the joy sharing brought her, but not her mortality.
With closed eyes, I try to picture her in a house that has long since been sold. I imagine her behind a window graced with roses, seated on a chair whose needlepoint cover is now stored in the attic two floors above me.
She was my husband’s Grandmother and at the last of her life, she moved in with us.
When cancer stripped her of her independence she gave herself over to me. Her cancer had no regard for the countless hours she gave away to her family, community, and church. It ravaged her body cruelly and throughout the worst of it, she never complained. There is an intimacy in giving care to a dying person–the backward slide from adulthood to virtual infantile dependency–each of us galvanized in the love we’d forged cleaved to the rhythms that made up what was left of her days.
The night Grandma died, Jimmy and I together prepared her for bed, she had been in a coma for over a week. We whispered to her as we attended her needs — fresh sheets, nightgown — followed by an excerpt read from her beloved King James. Twist of the knob to leave the light on low and kisses to each cheek from us, we slipped from the room.
Hours later, I woke from a deep sleep. From the stairs, I could see her just as we had left her in the dim glow of light.
Apart from her labored breathing, the room was still, taking her hand in mine as I sat. In a hush, “Hi Grandma…it’s me, Elin.” And while my thumb traveled absently back and forth across her hand, I searched the time-worn crevices of her face only to glimpse her eyes open and search the ceiling above. As her gaze lighted on something I could not see — a smile spread across her face — she went on smiling as tears carved their way to her pillow.
Then, as if escaping, her soul — what appeared as an iridescent stream — pushed its way toward the object she had been fixed on. All at once it was gone, leaving me and her depleted body behind.
Since tucking her in for her permanent rest the ritual of making her rolls is a tradition.
Later, flour dust swirling around me from ingredients stirred into the bowl, my hands worked to create the velvety dough. As if playing in my own fingertips, I felt a piece of her come back to me. Even later she was there–as the fattened by yeast-drenched-in-sugar-glazed-rolls–were pulled from the oven. Surrounded by family, her family, our family, the aroma of cinnamon hung in the air.
I felt it, perhaps we all did, the gift of a tradition passed on, and in that sharing, her pure grace on this Thanksgiving is alive yet again.
Author Update: Link to the recipe.